Why having fun stops students overturning the teaching barricades

by reestheskin on 23/05/2014

Comments are disabled

I posted a few days back about economics students rebelling against much of what they are taught. I wonder what the equivalent grounds for dissent for medical students would be. Possibly the confusion between being trained to work in the NHS, and being educated to practice medicine. Perhaps.

John Kay, as ever, has an article full of insights about the issue, and he thinks the students have a point (as I do). Part of the issue is that the academy always prefers formal methods over informal or tacit knowledge. This, to me at least, was one of the key insights Herb Simon made in his book the Sciences of the Artificial. Serious engagement with students is difficult because as Kay states:

In no other subject [other than economics] do students express such organised dissatisfaction with their teaching. It seems, however, to little lasting effect. Impermanence is inherent in student life: they don suits, collect their first salary and leave their complaints behind until the same gripes are rediscovered by a new group of 19-year-olds with similar naive hopes of changing the world.

He is right. But his most important point is the broader one:

One cause of the problem is not specific to economics. Modern universities prize research above teaching, to a degree that would astonish people outside the system, who imagine its primary purpose is to educate the young. In reality, teaching ability plays a negligible role in university hiring, tenure and promotion decisions. Many academic staff regard teaching as a nuisance that gets in the way of their “own” work. If most students were not having such a good time outside the classroom, they would be angrier than they are. They should be.

So, if they have a duller social life, we might yet see some barricades to education overturned.